Road Test: Porsche's 2013 911 Cabriolet is the best yet

The 911 needs no introduction, but Kevin Hackett says this Porsche deserves the longest standing ovation yet.

The 911 has tenacious grip on the road and won't let go unless provoked. When it does, you need to be fast with your reactions. Mike Young / The National
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Make the best better. That has to be the mantra chanted by Porsche's designers and engineers, whenever they turn their attention to the venerable 911. Since 1963 it has remained in constant production, even surviving Porsche's own attempts to kill it off in the late 1970s, and it gets better with each generation. So far there have been seven evolutions but the essential design has remained faithful to the original: rear-mounted flat-six engine, 2+2 seating and that unmistakable, trademarked profile.

No other sports car divides opinion like the 911 and millions of enthusiasts the world over view it as the ultimate. There are monthly magazines devoted to the car - I was assistant editor for one in the UK for some time - and devotees simply cannot get enough of them. And, over the years as a motoring hack, I have driven every iteration, from the humble 2.0L original to the track racers and the 959 supercar. I get it, really I do. I understand the fascination because no other car, new or old, feels quite like it. You never fully master a 911 and, in that sense, it will either kill you or turn you into a better driver.

There has been a problem, however, in that Porsche eschewing the traditional air-cooled engine in favour of radiators in 1998 (as well as dramatically changing its exterior styling), has, in the view of many, turned the world's favourite sports car into a bit of a softie.

But Porsche never really had a choice in the matter. The 911 had to move with the times and become modern and, here I am, getting to grips with the latest generation, with a massive smile on my face. It's no softie; it's still an electrifying, exhilarating machine that thrills and scares in equal measure. It's just that nowadays you need to know which buttons to push for it to show its hidden talents.

I'm in a brand new convertible, officially called the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. The S moniker is important here, because its engine displaces 3.8L, rather than the base model's 3.4, and that means 400hp as well as a top speed of 304kph and a 100kph sprint from rest in 4.5 seconds. So it's mighty quick, but then so was the previous model. The real differences and improvements are more important than performance statistics.

Since its inception, Porsche has been battling the laws of physics. Just how can it keep that heavy engine slung out over the rear axle, while making it drivable for non-experts? Early models often had their front bumpers filled with cement in an attempt to balance the weight distribution and counteract that wild pendulum effect experienced when getting a corner wrong. Many, many people have died in 911s, caught out by its wayward handling. And yet, therein lies its appeal. It was always a car that took skill to master. So how has Porsche tackled it this time? With trick suspension componentry and, I can't believe they've waited so long to do this, by extending the wheelbase by a significant 100mm.

I could fill this section with a list of improvements made to the 911 with this current model - in fact Porsche claims that 90 per cent of its components are either entirely new or extensively redesigned. And they all come together in one harmonious whole to remind us that this is the mother of all sports cars.

Seriously, it's epic fun. With the switchable sports exhaust turned on, the sound that fills the cabin is guttural and angry without being bothersome and it's even better in the Cabriolet thanks to that fabric roof.

When the roof is down you get the full effect and it's so good you won't think to use the admittedly excellent Bose hi-fi system. In Sport Plus mode, give the throttle a prod and it moves like a cheetah chasing down a gazelle, all the while sending information aplenty through its brilliant steering and the driver's firmly clenched buttocks.

Other improvements relate to the faster folding roof, which does a better job of maintaining the coupé's looks when raised, and the interior, which is light years ahead of any previous 911's. The all-red upholstery this test car was specced with makes it like sitting inside someone's main artery, but the design and construction is practically flawless.

The 911, with or without a roof, continues to excite and inspire, setting the standard for the rest of the world. And, every time Porsche unveils the latest one, I find myself wondering just how it could ever make the car better. Yet, somehow, I know the best is yet to come.

The Specs

Base price / as tested Dh432,000 / Dh490,340

Engine 3.8L flat-six

Gearbox Seven-speed DSG

Power 400hp @ 7,400rpm

Torque 440Nm @ 5,600rpm

Fuel economy, combined 8.9L/100km